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A valedictory for the Co-Moderators of the 225th General Assembly

The Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis and the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace share highlights of their two years in office

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Co-Moderators of the 225th General Assembly (2022), the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace and the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, lead ecumenical worship during the 67th Commission on the Status of Women (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — As their two years of service as Co-Moderators of the 225th General Assembly come to a close, the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis and the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace shared their thoughts in this 14-minute video on the highlights of their years in office uniting under the theme of “Unbounded We Thrive.”

Santana-Grace is the executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Effective August 1, Starling-Louis will begin serving as campus minister at Columbia Theological Seminary.

Santana-Grace called their two years in the PC(USA)’s highest elected office “exhilarating and exhausting.”

“There is much that could have been framed by anxious scarcity and judgment. We believed in, hoped for and celebrated the theology of flourishing,” Starling-Louis said, “recognizing that God has always challenged us out of those spaces of immobilizing fear. From Moses to Esther to the disciples, to Mary, to Paul and others, God has always called us out of our assumptions into new possibilities.”

The Co-Moderators celebrated “the theology of the table,” Santana-Grace said, “a conviction acknowledging we are far better together” by “working together on all those sins that separate us from God and one another, plaguing us with the pain of racism and injustice.”

“God is not done with us, or this church,” Starling-Louis said.

Both Co-Moderators discussed examples of flourishing they saw as they traveled across the country and around the world. Santana-Grace spent time in Puerto Rico, “the land of my ancestry. I was struck by the courage and faithfulness of a people who continue to find ways to resist forces of poverty there as well as the climate changes that are challenging them.”

They said they were privileged to preach at the ecumenical service at the United Nations as part of the Commission on the Status of Women.

“It was an extraordinary gathering, reminding us that the status of women is a global challenge,” Santana-Grace said. Another of Santana-Grace’s highlights was spending a few minutes with Pope Francis. The Co-Moderator affirmed the pontiff’s ecumenical work on issues of poverty and justice. She was touched to hear him “request that we might pray for him and not against him.”

The theology of the table “came to life watching folks gather,” Starling-Louis said, “real bodies, real people in real spaces, sharing what they are partaking of, including their thoughts, their energies, their imaginings and their learnings. The ability to share life together and share our strategies and our faith with a sense of resurrection hope, particularly in these past two years, has been astounding.”

“We have seen firsthand with great joy how God keeps calling individuals to serve in such a broad and creative range of ministries,” Santana-Grace said. “God keeps calling, and people keep saying yes.”

The Co-Moderators of the 225th General Assembly, the Rev. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace and the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, are shown shortly after their first-ballot election. (Photo by Rich Copley)

One place where God “forever transformed my awareness and conviction” was among high school students at the Montreat Youth Conference, where Santana-Grace served as conference preacher. “We are blessed by an extraordinary youth community. We need to step out and join them on the journey” and in “their commitment to resist inequality and injustice and to care for this world that they have inherited,” she said. “They have moved my spirit beyond what I could ever have imagined.”

Starling-Louis experienced something similar at Hastings College and Hampton University. “In both places, these young folk not only showed up for a presbytery meeting, but also shared their gifts, their energy, their voices, their wisdom and their prayers, in times of fellowship and in the meeting collectively,” she said. “There’s a gift in being able to be together that reflects the calling that God is still unfolding — not just for our young people, but for all of us.”

The Co-Moderators said they were “deeply moved” by the new generation of leadership in some of the theological seminaries affiliated with the PC(USA). Four presidents have been inaugurated, with a fifth still to come. The two said they’ve also been inspired by the ecumenical dialogues they’ve witnessed.

“It is clear that the future of Christianity, the future of resisting forces that work against an incarnation of God’s possibilities, is reflected in our embracing our Christian siblings to work together to make a difference,” Santana-Grace said.

Both also marveled at all the volunteers who have come forward to serve on the committees, commissions, task forces and advisory groups of the General Assembly.

“It’s been a gift to watch the wisdom pour out of individuals as they say yes to the calling and lean into what God is co-creating in us that is bigger than any of us could do by ourselves,” Starling-Louis said. “We recognize that we are a community of people embarking on new ways of understanding what it means to lead and moderate and be together as spiritual work.”

“It’s been amazing to witness that collective learning can happen with humility and hope as we all step into what is yet unseen, but we do so together,” Starling-Louis said.

“This leaning into is an act of courage,” Santana-Grace said. “It’s an act of faithfulness for the church at this time and place.”

For Starling-Louis, “It has been the blessing of a lifetime to witness the faithful response to the Holy Spirit of siblings serving around the country and around the world.” That level of faithful response reflects “an ever-unfolding yes to our calling, a yes to seeing flourishing abundance over fearful scarcity, and yes to making room at the table in ways that support the common good and healing justice that loves God, loves our neighbor and loves ourselves.”

“Thank you for allowing us to serve as ambassadors,” Santana-Grace said, before Starling-Louis finished her sentence: “and be witness to the ways in which unbounded we thrive.”

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